For centuries, breaking bread has been used to build relationships, camaraderie, and trust between those sharing the meal. Staff in the Heat and Eat program are using this time-tested tradition to connect and build relationships with patients that have been historically hard to reach.
For the last year, Good Bowls has been partnering with UNC’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Team to provide healthy meals for the Heat and Eat Program. As part of this initiative, ACT staff take a number of Good Bowls with them while visiting patients with mental health issues living in the community. These patients sometimes resist connecting with the ACT team and frequently struggle with food insecurity. Taking along a handful of Good Bowls not only provides the patients with a healthy and delicious meal, but the ACT team has found that it’s a great way to personally connect with each of their patients.
ACT Team Leader Jeff Neer has been engaging with patients in the community for years and says, “I think that trust goes along with engagement. The more he sees our efforts are meeting his actual needs, the more he’s going to be willing to engage and listen on other issues – on medication adherence, and seeking appropriate medical care.”
Program Director Thava Mahadevan thinks that the Heat and Eat Program builds a personal connection beyond just the medical treatment noting that, “It’s something tangible you are taking. It’s also a nice way to engage the person, and you’re meeting a person in a place that’s their normal environment, it’s not a clinic.’
Good Bowls were created by a UNC nutrition professor and are based on the Mediterranean diet. All the recipes are packed with seasoned roasted vegetables, whole grains, and healthy oils and come in a wide variety of recipes that are culturally adapted for a range of tastes. The bowls are all made with fresh, local farm food and are significantly more healthy than other comparable dinners found in the frozen food aisle that are often light on vegetables and packed with preservatives and processed sugars. Jeff Neer and the ACT staff enjoy heating up bowls for their patients every week and he remarks that, “the fact that these meals are incredibly nutritious, balanced, and provided on a regular basis has a huge impact.”
In 2023 the Wake Heat and Eat program is on track to distribute over 5,000 Good Bowls to mental health patients in the area – not only providing an essential meal, but a connection to those that need it most. Based on the overwhelming success of the program so far, the ACT staff believes the Heat and Eat program could be used not only by other ACT teams but used by a variety of other programs as well.